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Parent Category: Kansas State History Articles
Category: Old West Kansas
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Cattle drives were a major economic activity in the 19th century American West, particularly between 1856 and 1896. In this period, 27 million cattle were driven from Texas to railheads in Kansas, for shipment to stockyards in Louisiana and points east. Because of this, Kansas became the home of some of the famed cowtowns of the wild west era. 

These Kansas cowtowns "came into existence, one after another, each flourishing for few years, on the lines of several of the pioneer Western railroads as these iron trails advanced farther and farther into the range country; the worst being those that were made shipping points for the great trail-herds coming from the South." 


The Kansas Cowtowns 

Where are all the Cowtowns?
Abilene, Ellsworth, Wichita, Dodge City, and Caldwell received the major portion of the booming cattle trade. Baxter Springs, Newton, Hunnewell, Great Bend, Hays, and Junction City achieved periods of brief success. The Chisholm Trail served as the major trail to many of the Kansas cowtowns. 
See: Kansas Cowtowns

Kansas Cowtowns
Immediately following the war, a number of Kansas cowtowns began to spring up along the developing railheads. Beginning in Baxter Springs, and expanding westward along with the railroad to Abilene, Ellsworth, Caldwell, Wichita, and Dodge City, these cities all developed a reputation as wild and wooly frontier towns. Secondary cattle markets in Newton, Hunnewell, Great Bend, Hays, Brookville, Coffeyville, and Junction City also achieved periods of brief success as cowtowns.

Kansas Cowtowns – Violent Places on the American Frontier
As the developing railheads moved westward, so did the wild and wooly frontier towns including Ellsworth, Caldwell, Wichita, and Dodge City. Secondary cattle markets in Newton, Hunnewell, Great Bend, Hays, Brookville, Coffeyville, Salina, and Junction City also achieved periods of brief success as cowtowns.


The Cattle Trails to Kansas

There are two main cattle trails that led to the Kansas cowtowns during the cattle drive era. They are known as the Chisholm Trail and the Great Western Trail. Below you will find more information.

What was the first major cattle trail?
The first cattle drives from Texas on the legendary Chisholm Trail headed north out of DeWitt County about 1866, crossing Central Texas toward the markets and railheads in Kansas. The trail was named for Indian trader Jesse Chisholm, who blazed a cattle trail in 1865 between the North Canadian and Arkansas rivers.

Where is the Chisholm Trail?
The Chisholm Trail was a trail used in the post-Civil War era to drive cattle overland, from ranches in Texas to Kansas railheads. The portion of the trail marked by Jesse Chisholm went from his southern trading post near the Red River to his northern trading post near Kansas City, Kansas.

Why did the Chisholm Trail end?
The Chisholm Trail was the major route out of Texas for livestock. ... When the Civil War ended, the state's only potential assets were its countless longhorns, for which no market was available—Missouri and Kansas had closed their borders to Texas cattle in the 1850s because of the deadly Texas fever they carried.

What is the Great Western cattle trail?
The Great Western Cattle Trail was used during the 19th century for movement of cattle and horses to markets in eastern and northern states. ... The Great Western Trail went west of and roughly parallel to the Chisholm Trail into Kansas.


The Cattle Trade Start and Ending

How did cattle drives start?
The first cattle drives from Texas on the legendary Chisholm Trail headed north out of DeWitt County about 1866, crossing Central Texas toward the markets and railheads in Kansas. The trail was named for Indian trader Jesse Chisholm, who blazed a cattle trail in 1865 between the North Canadian and Arkansas rivers.

Why was the cattle boom important?
In the East, the demand for beef increased after the Civil War because of the expanding economy and growing population. This was an economic advantage during the Cattle Boom because it is what helped start it all. ... Cattle ranching also began expanding onto the Great Plains at this time.
See: The Cattle Kingdom - The West 1850-1890

Why did cattle drives come to an end by the late 1800s?
In the 1890s, herds were still occasionally driven from the Panhandle of Texas to Montana. However, railroads had expanded to cover most of the nation, and meatpacking plants were built closer to major ranching areas, making long cattle drives to the railheads unnecessary.

What were the causes of the end of the cattle drives?
The cattle drives ended in the late 1880s for several reasons. First, there was the invention of barbed wire. This wire had sharp points on it. Settlers used barbed wire to make fences on their property. (See this)



 

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